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Notre Dame/Miami: The Shallow Cross

If you've been reading my breakdowns, you probably noticed that I tend to spend a lot of time on running the ball and have written very little on the pass game.  There are several reasons for this, some my choice and some outside of my control.

The first reason goes back to why I started writing these breakdowns in the first place.  I was sick of hearing people talk about how you can't run the ball out of the spread and how Notre Dame needs to have a "power running" offense.  This is stupid for many reasons, the biggest being that the spread offense was designed to literally spread the field and allow teams to run those traditional running plays (zone, trap, counter) with fewer defenders at the immediate point of attack, allowing less talented teams to level the playing field a bit.  Just because it's out of the shotgun and there's no GRITTY fullback doesn't mean it's not "power football" (which I think is kind of a vague term itself, anyway).  So my original purpose was to educate Notre Dame fans on the spread offense, focusing mainly on the running game to hopefully clear up some misconceptions.

The second reason is, quite simply, I love the running game.  I love watching linemen shuffle around and shove the ball down the defense's throat.  Now, my first love is offenses that gain yards and put up points, no matter how it's done, and Kelly has shown in his career that his offense works, so I don't care if he decides to throw the ball 50 times a game next season.  But there is something satisfying in controlling the clock and slowly bleeding away the game while the other team can only watch helplessly*.

And the final, and maybe most important, reason is that it's straight up easier to follow running plays on TV.  Typically during a play, the camera zooms in on the quarterback and doesn't allow you to see the receivers' routes or the defensive alignment.  Unless the broadcast shows a wide angle replay, it's very difficult to see what happens ten or more yards down the field.  With a running play, that's not really an issue since everything happens right in front of the quarterback. 

So with all that said, I think I've exhausted most of what I set out to write about with regards to the Irish running game.  I covered Kelly's most common plays and hopefully educated you guys (and gals) on the plays common to almost any team.  So my future plans are to try and write more about the passing game.  That doesn't mean I'm ignoring the run game; if Kelly pulls out something interesting during the season, I'll mention it.  But I'm going to try harder to keep my eye out for interesting things to talk about in the pass game.

Whew.  So after that long-winded introduction, let's talk some footbaw.

The shallow cross is a rather innocent looking route.




You simply have a receiver run across the field at a depth of 4 to 6 yards.  But offensive coordinators have built a series of plays based simply off of that one route.  The shallow cross is a staple in almost every offense, from the West Coast Offense to Mike Leach's Air Raid.

There are a dizzying array of different variations and combinations in the shallow cross concept, but the base play in the West Coast Offense looks something like this:




Behind the cross you have an in route.  Against zone coverage, that receiver will settle into an open spot; against man, he will simply run away from his defender.  The outside receiver runs either a post or go route, depending on if the middle of the field is open (MOFO) or closed (MOFC).  This is based on the position of the safeties.  To the other side, the running back runs a wheel route along the sideline (though he doesn't have to).  These two routes are not part of the quarterback's normal progression.  They are what are known as "peek" routes.  The QB will "take a peek" to see if those routes are open, but will otherwise ignore them.  Their purpose is simply to run off defenders, opening up the middle of the field underneath.

In the college game, particularly in the Air Raid or Bobby Petrino's offense, the base play is slightly different:


via smartfootball


Here, the in route is run against the shallow cross.  This play works to get the defenders moving to one side of the field and then hitting the crossing route going the other way.  The running back's wheel route will take defenders to the cross's side deep, while the post, in, and deep comeback draw defenders the other way.  When everyone clears out, the quarterback can hit the shallow cross, where there should be plenty of open space for the receiver to run.

Here's an excellent video of John Gruden discussing this very play with THIS GUY Ryan Mallet.


As I said earlier, there are a huge number of different variations.  The one I’ll talk about here is mesh.




The Air Raid adores this route and it was a staple going back to the LaVell Edwards/Norm Chow BYU glory days.  This route is excellent against man coverage.  The two shallow cross routes actually physically cross each other, creating a "rub."  Defensive coordinators might call this a pick and say it's illegal, but as long as both receivers do not deviate from their routes to purposefully get in the way of the defenders, then everything is fine.  This play requires good technique because it's very easy to get nailed with offensive pass interference if the rub is not executed properly.

The defenders have no idea which receiver is going underneath and which is going over the top, so chances are at least one defender gets caught up in the rub and someone gets open.  Again, the other routes are largely ignored but can be thrown if the defense leaves them open.

So now let's look at how the Irish used this against the Canes.



The Irish are lined up in a 3x1 set, meaning they have three receivers to one side and one to the other.

The Irish are going to run almost a textbook mesh with Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert.



Floyd and Eifert will rub while Theo Riddick, TJ Jones, and Robert Hughes will run off defenders with their routes.


I honestly cannot tell what kind of coverage Miami is in.  The corner on Floyd bails at the snap, meaning they might have been in a Cover 3 man.  Riddick and Jones’s defenders stay with them as they go downfield.  One of the outside linebackers follows Hughes on the wheel route.  The other two linebackers seem to be responsible for Floyd and Eifert.


Floyd and Eifert rub, though there doesn’t seem to be anyone on Floyd.  One linebacker followed Eifert over the top, but the other took off after Tommy Rees, possibly on some kind of delayed blitz.  Either way, the defense decided to leave Notre Dame’s most dangerous player undefended.


The play worked to perfection, leaving Floyd wide open with a lot of open space.  Jones got tangled with his defender and both ended up on the ground near the Notre Dame sideline.  Riddick’s man has his back to Floyd, and the two safeties are too deep to get to Floyd in time to do anything.  Rees and Floyd play pitch and catch and Floyd picks up 18 yards and a first down.

So with that, I’ve finally finished my breakdowns from the 2010 season and it only took me 13 weeks about eight months.  Next week I’ll be back with an X’s & O’s preview of the South Florida offense.  I’ll also continue to do breakdowns like this every week for the previous Saturday’s game.  I might also occasionally throw up another post if something catches my eye.  So what I’m saying is, you can expect at least two posts a week from me for the next several months.  I can’t let Murtaugh have all the fun around here…

*Does that sound a bit morbid?  Should I get help?